The annual holiday seems like ages away now. I set a reminder on my phone, a countdown using the Days Left widget on my phone. It’s now standing at 17 days past the date. That means I’ve been back at my desk for a week, and the glow of relaxation has begun to fade.
I’m not a fan of heat, so our family holidays tend to be quite local, as in UK based. There are very few countries as capable of being toe-curlingly cold in the middle of summer as the UK so my packing never goes without a pair of wooly socks and a cardigan– ever ever ever. This year we booked a cottage in Scotland, The Granary near Linlithgow, and enjoyed it very much. I’ve already written my ideas for creating hygge on holiday, so this post is more to do with where we went than the holiday itself.
A lot of Scotland is very beautiful, scenic and striking, so it’s no wonder that it often gets used as a shooting location by films and series. One of my favourites (total family hygge, when we sit to watch with mugs of tea and a nibble of something) is Outlander. The area around Edinburgh is overflowing with Outlander locations, so when my husband said he was interested in visiting Edinburgh for the fringe, and should we visit the area around it as well… well, that was a redundant question, wasn’t it?
Out of the six actual days of the holiday (not counting travelling days) we spent four of them at Outlander locations. How much we appreciated this wasn’t clear until last night, watching the last episode of series 2, and laughing as Daughter, usually so calm and blase about life (she is 16) jumped up and down screaming “We’ve been there! We’ve been there!”
It is amazing when you do visit the actual locations used in filming to realise how good these series are at fooling you. Special effects, set design, careful editing and lighting can make a small mews street into 18th Century Paris, or a dilapidated castle into a complete home. Certainly, we stood agape as the ‘home’ from the series was revealed as a dangerous structure that you could look at but, definitely, do not touch. Here, then, are my top Outlander locations. Why top? Because they’re the ones we visited, of course!
- Lallybroch: Properly known as Broch Tuarach, this is Jamie’s ancestral home. You can visit it as part of the Hopetoun Estate, although be aware it isn’t safe, so you can’t go inside, and you will need to pay a £10 car parking pass at the Hopetoun House entrance. This was possibly the most surprising difference between what you see and what is actually there. Good set design and careful angles obscure the damage. It’s a shame, because it’s a lovely building and would make a gorgeous honeymoon hotel (hint, hint). If you’re an Outlander fan, it’s worth visiting, simply because it’s such an iconic shape. Look at that gate arch! And the steps, so cute.
Lallybroch looks completely different in the programme, with the yard covered with dirt, different doors and windows and planting covering up many issues.
- 18th Century Parisian Streets. These were actually filmed in the mews behind Hopetoun House, with lighting and street cover used to create a dark nighttime scene. The mews are used as education rooms and housing for estate worker, so in the daytime they look very different.
Hopetoun also got used as the home of the Duke of Sandringham, and scenes of sword fights. You can see how Hopetoun was used on this webpage.
- Le Havre Harbour. Le Havre is a big shipping port in France, yes? Well, for the filming a small harbour on the north side of the Forth was commandeered and dressed to look like a large port. Dysart Harbour is a small working harbour, filled with boats and with only one convenient cafe (with toilets) in the Harbourmaster’s house. It is picturesque, though, and popular with fishermen, so it was worth the drive to see it.
- Fort William, Inverness. Travelling through Scotland and staying in locations for shooting can be expensive, so unsurprisingly film crews are keen to use locations that are only a short drive from wherever the local base may be. From Edinburgh to Inverness is a 158 mile journey (approximately 4 hours driving) so driving up there is prohibitively expensive. That’s where Blackness Castle comes in. To be fair, most of the locations are worth visiting even if you’re not an Outlander fan, but Blackness features very heavily as Fort William. In Season 2 Episode 13 you virtually get a guided tour around the site, which is lovely as you can tell exactly where they are if you’ve visited the castle yourself.
Again, the details included in the series that just aren’t there in real life are amazing. They built a flogging platform, brought in earth to smooth the rocky ground and created the effects they needed, all within the castle itself.
- Castle Leoch. Doune Castle, which was used for Castle Leoch, has the added advantage of being popular for use in TV and film. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was part-filmed there, so my sons were happy following the audioguided tour all the way round. I chose the Outlander tour, narrated by Sam Heughan, and all to short for a proper fan. It did have interesting facts in, like the shinty players in one episode were real shinty players and warned not to hit the stars of the show too hard. Apparently shinty is a rough game. Who knew? Oh, and the kitchen at Doune Castle never made it into the show because it was too delicate to use for lighting rigs and camera glides, but the producers were so enamoured of it, they built a facsimile back at the studio, brick by brick.
The centre of the castle was created with plenty of soil, and outbuildings built to provide places for people to work and ‘be’. A whole stable block was created nearby, and again the set dressers surpassed themselves making a fake look convincingly real.
- Geillis’ House, The Mercat Cross and The Herb Garden. These are all to be found in the Royal Burgh of Culross, a small town on the north bank of the Forth, and quaint enough to visit without an Outlander connection. If you do visit, you’ll meet locals and the shop workers there who are happy to tell you about their experiences of Outlander shooting nearby. Graham Harris Graham Photography, who has an exhibition in the Town House at Culross, has many fine photographs available to purchase which show various sites used in Outlander, along with magical-looking parts of Scotland. He also tells good stories of living in the Mercat Cross Square and seeing the filming going on just outside his window. You can see Geillis’ House (the tall white one), the Mercat cross where she was burned at the stake and Culross Palace which, with its unmistakeable yellow paint, has featured as Claire’s herbal garden and a corner for Highlanders to gather in the lead up to Culloden. It really was a dinky place, and I’m hoping to go back again one day for longer, since we arrived too late in the day to go in anywhere.
Have I missed anywhere off? I can’t think that I have. We did four days in and around Edinburgh just doing Outlander locations. We could have gone further afield… but, as I said, Inverness was a 3 hour drive away, and Culloden is up that way as well. I want to visit the buildings in Dumfries and Glasgow that were used as well, and Falkland, which doubled as Inverness and is further in to Fife. No matter: it’s always better to leave things to see when you return than to race to finish everything in a limited space of time. Also, when you have teenagers getting up and out before twelve is difficult and, given we work full time, having a rest on holiday is vital.
Hygge and happiness go so well together. If you’d like to read about the small things that have helped me to be happier, my new book is available from Amazon. Happier is all about how to use the small details in life to make you happier. You can get it at Amazon. I also think the principles of enjoying life and making the most of small details is an important part of hygge and that runs through my first few books as well. You can find details about all my books, and how to connect with me on social media on the Start Here page of my blog.
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